Fearing Mad Cow, Red Cross Announces Wider Blood Ban
To prevent the possible spread of mad cow disease through the blood supply, the American Red Cross announced yesterday it will "no longer accept blood donations from people who have spent as little as three months in Britain or six months anywhere in Europe," the AP/Nando Times reports. The new rules, which take effect in September and also ban donations from anyone who has received a blood transfusion in the United Kingdom, are "much stricter than those contemplated" by the FDA -- a discrepancy that some worry will "further confuse the public about the baffling disease." Last year, the FDA banned blood donations from those who spent a total of six months in Britain between 1980 and 1996, and FDA advisers in January recommended extending the ban to anyone who had spent a combined 10 years in Portugal, France or Ireland since 1980. The advisers had "argued that the Red Cross' call for tighter restrictions went further than necessary." However, earlier this year, Red Cross President Dr. Bernadine Healy said that the FDA standards were "minimal," and yesterday the organization said that greater "caution is needed given that there is no blood test for the human form of mad cow disease, which has a long latency period" (Meckler, AP/Nando Times, 5/21).
The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that the FDA is considering banning people who have spent time anywhere in Europe from donating blood, although officials did not say how much time spent in Europe would disqualify donors or which years would apply. The Red Cross is "legally allowed" to set stricter standards than the FDA, but its blood banks "may not say or imply that their blood is safer than those collected by banks following the FDA standards," the AP/Times reports. According to Red Cross spokesperson Blythe Kuvina, yesterday's decision will make about 8% of the organization's current donors ineligible, adding that the group "was already working to increase its pool of donors" (AP/Nando Times, 5/21).